The first thought that came to my mind after I saw the hydra for the very first time was the term “corpse dragon”――Also referred to as “zombie dragon”.


  The scales covering the hydra’s entire body were discolored as if they were decomposing, and the blood that was oozing out from various places of its body was bubbling from its body heat and contamination. 


  Even though there is still a considerable distance between us, the stink of rot stung my nose through the holy cloth mask.
Clau Soras was crying out in pain.


  The hydra raised one of its eight heads, probably because it noticed our intrusion.


  It glared at us with its two red eyes filled with hostility.
I thought it was going to release a breath attack at us, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
Perhaps it’s still waiting to see what we’re going to do, or maybe it believes that there is no need to use one.


  Whatever the case, I will just continue to keep my eyes on it.


  The length of the hydra’s necks easily surpasses the height of Ishka’s walls.
They look as thick as large trees that are thousands of years old.
Since there are 8 heads connected to its torso, the size of the torso was exactly like a mountain. 


  I looked beneath the hydra as I wondered how it was supporting its weight.
It’s common sense that whether it’s an animal or a monster, the bigger their bodies are, the more burden their legs will have supporting themselves.
It’s a standard tactic to aim for their legs when you are up against a massive beast.


  However, this method doesn’t seem like a viable one against the hydra.


  That’s because the part under its torso where its legs should be was completely submerged in the ground.


  ――No, it might be misleading to call it the ground.


  Since the hydra’s miasma had corroded the ground into a bottomless swamp, the creature is moving by pretty much swimming in that swamp.


  The ground’s corrosion from the poison keeps on progressing even now.
It doesn’t look like it’s going that fast since I’m watching from the sky, but if I was on the ground, I think the speed of the corrosion would probably match an adult’s running speed.


  The pace of the corrosion is basically the pace of the hydra’s invasion.


  Since I thought that the hydra would be flying to us in the worst scenario, this could be called great news in that sense.


  However, it is still a complicated situation even though it’s moving on the ground.


  The giant poison swamp that remains after the hydra passes through――No, maybe I should call it a sea instead.
That sea of poison continues to expand gradually while swallowing the trees around it.


  That’s just how terrible the hydra’s poison is, but it’s quite terrifying because it’s almost like the sea of poison has a will of its own.


  As things stand at the moment, the forest of Titis would be entirely swallowed up by the sea of poison by the time the hydra reaches Ishka.
If it comes to that, even if I defeat the hydra, Ishka will no longer be a place humans can live in.


  And it isn’t just Ishka.
Once the poison spreads through the Kale river, the Kingdom of Canaria will be on the brink of destruction too.


  That doesn’t sound like a very fun future.


  「Alright, Clau Soras, right here is fine」




  「Return to Ishka.
Don’t even think about backing me up okay? I’m going to have my hands full and I am not confident that I can keep you safe」




  「Answer me!」






  After that exchange, I jumped off Clau Sora’s back.


  A person wouldn’t normally survive a jump from this height, but it’s whatever to me since I can use kei.
Especially when I have already done this once before when I fought Gozu and them. 


  ――While I had such thoughts, the eyes of the hydra that have been looking over here glittered. 


  The hydra opened one of its mouths wide and aimed it at me as I dropped down.


  The next moment, a dark red-colored breath attack was released from the hydra’s mouth.
Judging from its color and form, it’s no doubt a powerful poisonous fluid.


  Water that is released at high pressure is a lethal force itself.
The existence of water magic that can break rocks and cut metals is proof of it.
The poison liquid that the hydra released is the same; if I just take it head-on, the water pressure would surely crush my body before I have to worry about the poison.


  The hydra’s breath was approaching before my eyes.
Like a red wall that’s closing in, there was nowhere for me to escape to.
Not to mention I was still in the air.


  ――That’s why I decided to welcome it head-on.


  I could just cut it with my soul equipment, but there’s something else I want to try instead.


  It’s because of what I learned in the fight against Gozu.


  My former mentor said that soul equipment is just the beginning, a wooden sword for its user to draw out the power of their anima further――A catalyst.


  It was something that I never expected.


  All this time, I thought getting stronger meant raising my level.
That’s why I’ve been using my soul equipment to kill monsters and why I’ve been eating Lunamaria and Miroslav’s souls.


  Bringing out more power from my soul equipment is not something that I’ve considered at all.


  Because to me, Soul Eater was already the strongest weapon.


  I thought that since I got my hands on the strongest weapon, I just had to strive to raise my level.


  That thought process was not wrong by any means.


  However, I learned that there’s a stage I’ll never reach by just doing that.


  And since the realization, hints have been popping up everywhere.


  The biggest hint is from the day I obtained my soul equipment.
The reason why I was still alive after I had my arms, legs, and face eaten in the nest of the King of Flies.


  That is none other than the power of my anima, Soul Eater.


  Restoration magic is a work of god that is comparable to resurrection magic; a godly miracle that only the pope from the holy kingdom can handle. 


  A phenomenon on the same level as that was easily done by Soul Eater.
That means Soul Eater is an anima that had such an ability.


  Although I’m thankful for that, I never thought about making that power my own.


  I thought it was just a one-time blessing, a miracle that happened because of my awakening.


  But that is wrong.


  Soul Eater’s power has always been inside me from that day on.
It did not reject me.
It’s just that I just never tried to get a hold of it.


  In fact, when I reached for it in agony during the fight against Gozu, I got a hold of it easily, no? I was allowed to use that power, wasn’t I?


  This time, I will try to get a hold of it on purpose and not in times of desperation.


   I already know just how I am going to do that.


  It’s not by stepping into the territory of “void” that Gozu talked about.
The level 『12』 me will not be able to reach that stage.


  What I should be looking at is not the sky, but the ground.
My starting point.
The beginning of everything that my level 1 self has reached.


 “ ――Here, the synchronization…is complete”


The act of aligning the body and mind with the anima in order to draw its power out.


  “Devour everything”, I will immerse myself in that feeling.


  If one is not careful, they could have their body robbed by the anima, but strangely, I did not worry about that at all.


  That time was the only time I was able to feel Soul Eater’s will, but that’s exactly why I remember it vividly.


  The voice that scolded me when I gave up on living.


  The fierceness of its roar that told me to devour everything.


  The rugged smile it showed me with its back against an oak tree in a desolate land from an unknown place.


  “――We…are the same.”


  My soul equipment rages.
My body burns.
My kei roars.


  I stored the power that is overflowing from my body in my mouth.


  A kei blast.


  A basic kei technique that just spits out kei from the mouth.


  But right now, it was more like a dragon’s breath.


  It’s a clash between dragons.
It sure feels like one when we are exchanging breath attacks as the opening move.


  With those feelings, I opened my mouth wide――




  I released my own breath attack at the hydra’s breath attack that was closing in.

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